Viking Trade by Rob Shackleford
Would you believe it if I suggested that Vikings were traders more than they were rape-and-pillagers?
While the reputation of savage conquerors might be relevant for some peoples, such as the literate British and Irish who wrote many of the histories relating to their contacts with the Norse, but the peoples who were often referred to as Vikings (which means pirates) were also highly motivated explorers and traders.
Not only had they developed cutting-edge technology in their raiding ships, but they also built highly efficient trading vessels that sailed most of the known world. Commerce from what we now call Scandinavia during the Viking Era is mostly known to have taken place between major trading ports located around the North and Baltic seas. During the Viking Age, the most significant emporia situated along the coastlines were known to be:
• Alaborg (Novgorod Oblast, Lyubytinsky District, Russia)
• Aldeigja (Staraya Ladoga, Volkhovsky District, Leningrad Oblast, Russia)
• Bardy-Świelubie (Near Kołobrzeg, West Pomeranian Voievodship, Poland)
• Birka (Björkö Island, Sweden)
• Dierkow (Near Rostock, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Germany)
• Dorestad (Near Wijk bij Duurstede, Utrecht province, the Netherlands)
• Gnezdovo (The village of Gnyozdovo, Smolensk Oblast, Russia)
• Grobiņa (Near Liepāja, Kurzeme Region, Latvia)
• Hedeby (Southern Jutland, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany)
• Holmgard (Veliky Novgorod, Novgorod Oblast, Germany)
• Kaup (Zelenogradsky District, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia)
• Skiringssal (Vestfold, Norway)
• Köpingsvik (Borgholm Municipality, Kalmar County, Sweden)
• Lindholm (Near Aalborg, Denmark)
• Menzlin (Near Anklam, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Germany)
• Ralswiek (Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Germany)
• Rerik (Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Germany)
• Ribe (Southern Denmark, Denmark)
• Sarskoye (Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia)
• Sigtuna (Stockholm County, Sweden)
• Timerevo (Near Yaroslavl, Russia)
• Truso (Lake Drużno, Northern Poland)
• Vanaja (North of Helsinki, Finland)
• Wolin/Jomsborg (Wolin Island, West Pomeranian Voievodship, Poland)
Some of these settlements had more of a defensive purpose, being built as strongholds and not solely as market places. Furthermore, some of them were mixed Scandinavian-Slavic markets (this means that they were populated at the same time by the Wends). So much is not known. The town of Wolin in modern day Poland is likely to have been the location of the famed Jomsborg, the citadel of the elite Jomsvikings.
But these locations are but a few. Trade took place between a wide variety of other undocumented trading outposts and harbours from the area between the North and Baltic seas. In fact, the Viking Age was primarily triggered by trade, rather than plunder, violence, or conquest.
Norse merchants travelled to many places in continental Europe and beyond, including Constantinople, Jerusalem, Baghdad, and even the Caspian Sea. There were trade routes that even reached Iceland, Greenland and what is today Eastern Canada.
Trade within Viking Age settlements was mostly charged in silver, rather than in gold. The Norsemen developed a ‘bullion economy’, where silver overcame gold as a means of transaction.
They imported fine textiles, weapons, silver, and silk from the Frankish Empire, the Byzantine Empire, as well as from the Anglian kingdoms of Britain (i.e. Northumbria, Mercia, or Wessex). In turn, they exported, among others, skins, furs, amber, walrus ivory, or honey. Moreover, slavery represented an important part of the Viking Age trade. The slaves taken by the Norsemen overseas were also known as ‘thralls’.
Between 991 and 1018, the Anglo-Saxon kings of England paid Viking invaders 2.8 million troy oz in silver coins. This explains why today there are still more Anglo-Saxon silver coins in Denmark than in England.
Other Viking Blogs
About the author:
Hi, I’m Rob Shackleford. I am author of a number of novels, though so far only Traveller Inceptio and Traveller Probo have been officially published. As Traveller Inceptio looks at the fates of modern historical researchers sent to the early 11th Century Saxon world, Vikings do feature.
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